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There are some last names in pop culture that resonate beyond just celebrity status. They evoke emotions, nostalgia, and even the feelings of an entire era. In music, think Lennon or Dylan, and of course Marley. So imagine bearing that name and trying to live up to its powerful artistic legacy. Such is the case with Julian Marley, who looks so much like his father, the legendary Bob, it's eerie. And when Julian sings, he even sounds exactly like him. It's a lot to live up to, but Julian, part of a constellation of musical Marley siblings and his father's fourth-youngest son, takes it in stride.
"Honestly, it doesn't really get to me," the 34-year-old says. "I'm just me. I live my life like everyone else, do my own shopping, cooking, you know — living." That humbleness is a trait often mentioned by people close to Julian. He's probably the most under-the-radar of his brothers, who all boast marquee careers: Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani. But as the saying goes, it's the quiet ones you need to watch out for.
A well-rounded musician with particular prowess in guitar playing and songwriting, Julian has enjoyed a career spanning some 15 years. His first full-length album, 1996's Lion in the Morning, unleashed the popular radio and TV single "Loving Clear." A year later, he toured alongside his then-18-year-old younger brother Damian for Lollapalooza. "Snoop was on that tour," Julian recalls. "There was definitely a lot of smoking going on!"
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After an extensive touring season following that album, Julian took a break. It lasted seven years, until the 2003 release of his sophomore album, A Time & Place. Both critics and the public received it well; the single "Harder Dayz," especially, boasted an infectious pop hook and inspiring lyrics. But superstardom never seemed imminent. Not that it bothered him. "I'm a musician that's for the people," Julian says. "I never wanted to blow up. I just want to create music that speaks for itself."
Unlike his brothers — particularly Damian, whose song "Welcome to Jamrock" was an international hit in 2005 — Julian has always kept a low profile, shying away from publicity. Still, he understands the need to differentiate his career from those of his brothers. His music is basically more organic and immediately soulful. There is not an ounce of the dancehall vibes that Damian perfects, nor his older brother Stephen's borderline pop-rock sound. Julian, instead, specializes in a hybrid of jazz, R&B, soul, and hip-hop fused with the classic roots reggae his father made so popular.
In fact, some people have called his style the best approximation of what Bob's would have sounded like if he were alive today. That's serious praise, and it almost gives Julian pause. "I wouldn't necessarily say that creating good songs is an easy process," he says. "Each song is so different, but then again, I am blessed with the knowledge I have from growing up in such a musical family."
And while his output stands apart, he happily works with his brothers. Julian, Stephen, and Damian founded Ghetto Youth International, a record label for their particular projects as well as a foundation that helps at-risk youth. With this mutual support, there's little sibling rivalry. "Of course, there's healthy competition amongst each other," Julian says, "but we all play on the same football team, you know?"
That team spirit led him to wait another six years before releasing his third record. He wanted the world's focus to remain on Damian's Welcome to Jamrock and Stephen's Mind Control, which both went on to win Grammys. With those albums properly well received, Julian then graced listeners with his third studio effort, Awake, this past April.
The 14-track gem, which includes songs produced by Stephen and Damian, is Julian's best work yet. "Violence in the Streets," featuring vocals from Damian, has garnered significant buzz and once again has established Julian as the brother to watch. "It's all about collaboration and helping one another achieve that sound, that result," Julian says. "I know what my brothers are capable of, and they complete my goals."
Their collaboration can be seen live while Julian tours the States with his band, the Uprising, as well as his brother Stephen. Damian will join them onstage for a special homecoming tour closer this Sunday night at the Arsht Center. "Miami is definitely my home city," Julian says. "I spend most of my time here and in Jamaica, so to perform in my hometown is always a great feeling."